Much like any Faustian deal, we might get what we want in exchange for our souls, but that granted wish always comes with a catch. And that’s what most FF fans are feeling right about now. Earlier this summer the mother of all wishes seemed to be granted by the most fervent of fans: Final Fantasy VII, perhaps one of the most beloved games of all time, would be getting a remake. That classic story with its beloved characters, all under the shine of the glorious power of Unreal Engine 4 graphics on the PS4. Then recently we found the fine print to getting exactly what we always wanted: rather than one game, it’s going to be broken down into episodes. While the doomsday sayers (admittedly I was among them) pretty much thought, ‘aw hell, this is going to be a cash in of DLC that will suck the lifeblood out of our stupid, weeby wallets’, the game’s director clarified that Final Fantasy VII is going to be released as a series of games, in order to include all the content. While I am certainly still giving this concept side-eye and clutching my tinfoil hat, after a little time of thinking about it I realized, actually, that isn’t so horrible an idea.
When released on the PSOne, Final Fantasy VII was so big it had to be put on multiple discs in order to fit the content. While the game had an open world map and a lot of side quests, it was actually fairly episodic in nature. So much so that it could easily be broken down into a four part series, with each part containing a satisfying combination of exploration, game play time and most importantly, plot.
Spoiler for a 20 year old game ahoy!
Final Fantasy VII Volume One: Midgar
The trailer released last week showed that Square Enix is already working on the classic first mission of the game: Attack on Sector One. This mission introduced us to most of the main characters as well as the game mechanics. In the original game, and even in Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core, Midgar is shown as a huge, sprawling city, densely populated in the slums. In order for the game to be satisfying, the first game should take place entirely in Midgar, with it ending just after Cloud and his team leaving after escaping Shinra headquarters, and discovery Sephiroth, a first-class SOLDIER is still alive.
Why does this work
The first mission introduces us to most of the main players: Cloud the mercenary, Barret the leader of group AVALANCHE and afterwards, flower girl Aerith. Immediately afterward we get to meet Tifa in person and learn more about AVALANCHE, and the seeming big-bad, Shinra. The next mission is on the Sector 5 reactor is the first time we have Tifa in the party, and afterwards Aerith starts becoming a more important of the story. We start learning about the Lifestream, the Ancients and the Turks. Next is the Wall Market scene where Tifa is abducted and starts building up the climax of the first arc of the story: Aerith is taken by the Turks, AVALANCHE is sabotaged and destroyed and an entire slum is annihilated, leading up on a full on assault on Shinra, resulting in learning about Jenova, Red XIII becoming a party member and the beginning of the story of Sephiroth. Cities are much more intensive to animate and draw (a city empty of people or an empty office building immediately pushes it into uncanny valley) and by focusing on JUST Midgar the story introduces the who, the what, the when and the how while ending on a happy note (we saved our teammates and escaped with our lives, yay!) and just enough mystery (who is Sephiroth? What is Jenova?) that people less familiar with the series will want to know what happens next. And it will lead nicely into the next volume...
Final Fantasy VII Volume Two: Nibelhiem
This game will easily start where we left off with just enough recapping to build into the next important plot point: Sephiroth. The story would start off in Kalm, the city just outside of Midgard. In the original game you had to travel from Midgar to Kalm on foot, dealing with a few generic RPG baddies including thieves and bad tempered garden weeds. These would be fightable in the game, of course, but after escaping and being on the run from a disgruntled Corporate Overlord, running into these things takes out the urgency out of going to safety. Starting in Kalm with Cloud and Tifa’s story of the end of their hometown gets the ball rolling where we left off. And for the game, would end where it started, in the ruins of Nibelhiem and having caught up with Sephiroth.
Why it Would Work
Between the flashback Nibelhiem and the real one, a lot happens in terms of story, including bits and pieces about Sephiroth, who spends most of this part of the story as a Sauron-type figure, more around the edges as a threat than a real person, as well background stories of most of the characters. We’d recruit Yuffie, Vincent and Cait Sith, and get flashbacks for Cloud, Tifa, Barret and Red, and get our first introduction to Zack, which starts testing Cloud’s sanity. This part of the game would offer the player a more open world feel than the Midgar section, with more opportunity to explore with less computing power than Midgar would need. By starting and ending with Nibelhiem, we’d, from a storytelling perspective, start and end at the same place, finally confront our true villain for the first time, and end with another tidbit, the almighty McGuffin that is the Black Materia. Once again, ending enough to want to see what happens next, and using a literary technique for the storytelling. Plus this part of the game would allow a lot of wandering and exploring without overtaxing the system or the developers.
Volume Three: The WEAPONS
This game would more or less be the Empire Strikes Back of the series, as there really wouldn’t be a way for this section of the plot to end as anything but a downer. After learning of Sephiroth’s plan in the last game, the race is on to find the Black Materia, the item that would release the spell ‘Meteor’ and destroy the planet more than Shinra could dream of. This game should start out in Rocket Town. We’d meet the final playable member of the team, pilot Cid, as the team convinces him to be their pilot so they can search for the Black Materia. This was the part of the game where things became a lot more open, there were lots of quests and most of them could be done in just about any order as the characters explored possible places for the Black Materia. This part of the game covered Yuffie’s back story as well as more about Cid and the Ancients/Cetra. This is also where one of the most heartbreaking parts of the game take place: Aerith’s death. While the original Disk One ended at this part, I don’t think this is where the game should end. Instead, it should end with the awakening of the WEAPONS and the real Sephiroth. After the temple of the Ancients and on their way to the city of the Ancients, it starts to become clear that Cloud’s not 100% in control of his sanity or body. When Aerith is in your party after the Temple, Cloud actually attempts to strangle her. With the next attempt on her life done during her prayer at the City of the Ancients, just before Sephiroth finishes the job himself. With Aerith dead and Cloud trying to figure out who and what he is, the journey to the crater reveals the truth about Aerith, the Ancients, and Sephiroth before the real Sephiroth is awakened, and Meteor is unleashed. The game would end with Cloud going missing, Tifa and the rest of the team captured by Shinra and the planet seemingly doomed.
Why it would work
By ending the game with the release of Meteor, it would build the audience up for the final confrontation, while at the same time leaving a lot of questions unanswered. What the hell is up with Cloud being chief among them. While Aerith’s death is a major plot point, ending with her death wouldn’t be as satisfying, since there aren’t any major boss monsters in the City of the Ancients. Not to mention, the death of the planet has far more impact than the death of one person, even if it’s a beloved character. The game would also be a lot more open ended than the previous two installments, since in the original game this is where the quests started to take less specific order until the Black Materia is actually found. Not to mention setting it up this way provides enough story for the final part, since the game actually slowed down quite a bit as people got to the third and final disk.
Volume Four: The End
The planet’s screwed, our protagonist is missing, the bad guy seems to be winning, and this game would open up with an execution: Tifa in the gas chamber. Doing this way causes the game to immediately hit the ground running. After escape we find Cloud, learn the truth about him, Sephiroth and Zack, and face down Hojo before going One-Winged Angel hunting. Now, my personal problem with this part of the plot was that it slowed down quite a big compared to the rest of the game. While finding Cloud and learning the truth behind his past answered a lot of questions, and hunting the Huge Materia offered a lot of fun quests, it was a huge amount of grinding between finding Cloud and killing Sephiroth. It loses its urgency that the earlier arcs had. This part of the game would benefit the most from a bit more fleshing out. While we learn about Zack and Vincent’s past, it would probably help if for this part of the game, Square would add some new story scenes and areas to make gearing up for Sephiroth less of a chore and more of feeling of ‘aw yeah, we’re taking this asshole down’. More info about Jenova, Shinra, and what the hell was that submarine carrying would help a lot. This could also be a good opportunity to even include info (or even gameplay) from Before Crisis and Crisis Core. Donkey Kong Country 64 had a level where the original NES Donkey Kong was emulated. Doing a similar thing with the prequel games could be fun. So rather than feeling like a checklist of non essential but useful side quests (gathering all the attacks for the Enemy Skill materia and getting Knights of the Round) it would feel like necessary, poignant steps to saving the planet. Then when you’d finally face Sephiroth the build up would be worth it, and with the graphics and power of a PS4, could turn into the greatest boss fight of all time.
Why it would work
At this point there wouldn’t be much plot left to use, and splitting it up into more than four games would be more tedious than fun. The last part of the game contains some of the best quests and the best battle, but it also contains a lot of grinding and exploring with no sense of urgency despite the sky literally falling at this point. New plot points to explain things left unexplained in the original game, and facts from the prequel material would help a lot. This part of the game would probably benefit the most from some new additions to the game overall. It would help build up to the final fight with Sephiroth and could potentially transform into a great blend of cinematography and gameplay, sealing in our memories the remake of one of the most loved games of all time.
Breaking up the game into multiple parts may not have been what we wanted, but there is potential to do it right. If Squeenix breaks the game down into four separate titles in the manner similar to my example, it would do well to not piss off old fans while bringing in new ones. What they will actually do is hard to say just yet. In the meantime I have my tinfoil hat on standby.